Bhakti Is The Foundation

Bhakti Is The Foundation April 27, 2015

Advaita Vedanta has a reputation for being very cerebral. It’s a path of study, thinking, debating, talking, and learning. In very general terms it seems that if you want the path of study, you become an Advaitan. If you want the path of devotion you become a Vaishnava. If you want action you become a Shivite. If you want mysticism you become a Shakti. But as I’ve said before, there is a balance of all these different elements and it’s a very rare person who can be fully one and not any of the others. I think it’s healthier when we balance study, devotion, action, and mysticism together.

My guru is an Advaitan but he told us something very interesting on this trip. He said “Bhakti (devotion) is the foundation.” The other parts of spiritual practice build on that. For some of us highly intellectual people, it can be very challenging to relinquish control enough to do the praise and devotion thing for God.

I wanted to learn more about bhakti from the Advaitan perspective, so I bought a little book at the maat bookstore that was gathered lectured His Holiness had given on the topic of bhakti.

The great thing about bhakti is that it is a form of worship that is truely available for everyone. You don’t need years of study or a good education or resources. Anyone and everyone can practice bhakti right where they are today. For many people it is the first type of worship they experience and over time they may develop interest in more forms of worship or they may not. Bhakti can take you the whole way.

I could benefit from a little more bhakti in my life, I think. I have a tendency to try to take on everything and do it all myself. I think surrendering that control would be healthy. 


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    Every time I read your write up it’s amusing. In a good way. Like I said before our entire faith is interwoven. You need element from every path, same likewise you need all the ingredients to complete the dish. Wide grin. 😀

  • What is the name of this book? I have a book by Vishal Agarwal, “Brahman: The Many Forms of the One Formless: Interfaith Perspectives with a Focus on the Bhagavad Gītā.”

    My writeup is as follows:

    I downloaded it sometime late last year, and I finally started reading
    it after reading many contemporary books and articles discussing SD in
    general (like Malhotra’s articles, western dominance history, radical
    universalism, American exceptionalism, etc.). I’m reading this
    alongside the Mandala of Indic Studies web site (MASSIVE web site, and I
    am flabbergasted by the knowledge presented there). I’ve made a
    promise to read each chapter twice before moving onto the next one in
    order to reinforce my understanding, and then read the whole book a
    third time. I found it here –

    I feel that it is a good introductory book that explains clearly with
    references to the Gītā, Purāṇas, and several other scriptures down to
    the chapter and verse, so you can look it up to confirm it. There is
    reference to Malhotra’s work, and it gives you a basic understanding of
    western versus SD perspectives. I am beginning to understand better the
    SD perspective on Bhakti worship, which was not explained well enough
    for me in the Bhakti Yoga book I read. It is a completely different
    perspective on mūrtis and worship from that of Christian worship, and it
    actually is starting to make sense to me. I am now at the point that
    if I was asked what my deity is, I would probably say Gaṇesha and then
    Shakti, though once I know more about Shakti, that might change in
    preference order because I feel more strongly about the worship of the
    feminine attributes of Shakti as my mother, as opposed to the male
    attributes as in Vaishnavism, and I would not feel ashamed or
    embarrassed to admit it. In general, many people tend to worship
    Gaṇesha as their child (correct me and explicate why that is not the
    case if I am wrong – I would appreciate the correct expansion on the
    understanding of Gaṇesha’s place in people’s hearts), but my connection
    to Gaṇesha is not well defined yet.

    I was reading chapters 3 and 4 today, and it dawned on me that I finally
    started to understand what this is about, and what I had been missing.
    Some people worship only nirguṇa Brahman, some only saguṇa Brahman, and
    some both (and even others don’t have Brahman at all, if I recall).
    The meanings of both of these appear to be explained very well. What
    got me was the explanation of the relationship between devotee and the
    different aspects of Brahman, especially in regards to the deities as
    representations of the functions of Brahman.

    This is the “go-to” book during my development at this time, since I do
    not have that “lack of experience” with Christian proselytization that
    children not living in that environment have. If I had not had this
    experience, I would have taken to SD a lot sooner, because that article
    series on “India’s Love for Gold” over 10 years ago caught my attention
    and introduced SD to me.

    • “I feel more strongly about the worship of the
      feminine attributes of Shakti as my mother, as opposed to the male
      attributes as in Vaishnavism”
      To Vaishnavas, Maa Shakti is Sri Laxmi. Laxmi, Parvati and Saraswati are all forms of Maa Shakti. If one has a preference for Sri Vishnu’s energy as Supreme, but prefers to focus on the Feminine – Sri is another name for Laxmi. Worship Laxmi and Her avataras. Or, Lord Vishnu Himself is said to have taken a Female avatara once – I am not sure if She is worshipped by any though.

      Sri Ganesha is the Gatekeeper, the opener-of-the-way. He removes the obstacles, not just the ones in day-to-day life, but the obstacles between your prayers and the Gods, between your mind and consciousness, and Realization. He gives bounty in both material form in life, and in spiritual form. Those who begin on their journeys follow the path of His feet first. He is often depicted alongside Sri Laxmi, and is alternately said to be Her in Male form or Her Brother. He also gives the bounty Sri Laxmi gives, alongside Her.

      He is Tatpurusha, just as Sri Vishnu and Sri Shiva. He is the embodiment of the physical Universe – He holds all of creation in his belly. His numbers are 4 and 8, and his Yantra (a kind of mandala) is the 4-petaled Lotus. Mathematically represented, this is actually seen as the 4-Deminsional Universe in which we take repeated form – the Tesseract.
      You are a member of this forum, you might find this thread interesting:

      Some worship Sri Bala Ganesha as their Son. Some as a Brother, or as a Father, or as a Teacher. He is also called ‘The First Guru’, as He is the School of Hard Knocks and is often seen to be the first to bring people into SD for the first time. Sri Maha Ganesha is worshiped at a form of the Supreme, Himself. To me, Sri Ganesha is my Guru, my Guide and my true Friend. His Father and Mother is my Ishta Devata, but He is the one I bow to first.

      • HARRY

        Your second paragraph is in tune with knowledge in puran. Nice one. 🙂

        • Thank you for your kind words. =)

    • I forgot to add – Sri Ganesha also places Obstacles in Life. Lessons one must learn are the way past those Obstacles. He can give the grace of easing one’s lessons, or making it easier to learn and surmount those Obstacles, too.

  • “I think it’s healthier when we balance study, devotion, action, and mysticism together.”
    ^^ This. =) I completely agree.
    I spent so many years looking for the name of the practice I knew without being taught.In that time I became highly intellectualized by my culture, education and my Family, who are mostly scientists and teachers. In this time I had no sense of ‘Bhakti’ as even thought I enjoyed what practice I kept to, I had nothing to direct it towards, and I tended to think of people who fell so deeply into the love of their own faith as kind of silly and hysterical/emotional, thinking of it as a kind of mass-mob thought and that if one is truly objective such deep feeling and a need to ‘surrender’ is unnecessary. And ‘surrender’… surrender what? What for?

    I was the silly and naive one. I was rationalizing in the face of the emptiness where the name of my faith and the name of the vibration of the Supreme should have been. It allowed me to stay positive and keep going for so long, while I was missing that part.

    The day I found what I was searching for, I immediately understood Bhakti. Teachings I had read decades ago, out of context, suddenly took new and more full meaning. Surrender became a necessity – though as you observe it is very difficult at times. This sudden change is something overwhelming, I am still coming to grips with it a year and a half later. But it was necessary…

    A Guru I quite love reading said that all forms of Yoga are necessary to progress to the final goal. That anyone, no matter their spiritual level, can take something good and new from each Yoga, and so all of them should be practiced, even if it seems you are past, or mature in that ‘stage’.

    • Tony Radcliffe-Hung

      Ultimately all the paths are one. But while difference persist, one path may appear right or in essence, may be more expediant at “this time” (which speaks to the ego mind.)

  • Vidyadhara Buddhiraju

    My little bit.
    The pranic system of the human being is organized into chakras / centers of life motive.
    The Anahata / heart chakra is a major center of life energy. almost like a fulcrum of the pranic system. It is also consequently a major step to cross.
    However my guru and many other yogis says the real base is the muladhara / security chakra. All other energy centers must be based in this. Without stabilizing the muladhara, literally nothing of significance can be achieved. Trying to energize the anahata without stabilizing the muladhara will result in uncontrolled emotions easily scattering all the work that is done by the sadhaka. Therefore it is common to see the bhaktas also being rather scatter brained. The more intense forms of bhakti can only be realized in the intensely stable. Meera Bai, Ramakrishna, or for that matter jesus christ.


    The path of Bakti Is the only path that does not require any knowledge or study or even understanding of vedas and purans in Sanatan Dharma to reach that Brahaman that we all are seeking to guide us to Moksa. Any soul is capable of doing Bakti to reach it’s moksa. This part should be part of your conclusion in the write up. 🙂

  • David Cowan

    Bakti implies a seperate god, dualism. The self is not the body, so there is no need for Bakti.

    • Ambaa

      I agree but I think that’s kind of an “advanced” concept? I think bhakti helps a lot of people get started until they eventually come to understand that the being they are adoring resides within them.

    • Certainly, if one is realized. At the highest level of the Goal, there is no action, Bhakti is an action. But we cannot live a life and consistently sustain that state, either.

      Until one is established in ‘Self’, Bhakti is a valid arm of Yoga for all, helping to teach us boundless Love and compassion, sublimation of Ego, inner and external tranquility, and bringing us to Seva.

  • Varun

    Bhakti is specially suited for Kaliyug to make quick spiritual progress because the mind is least evolved and environment is unfavorable (AKA short life span with diseases) make it difficult to progress on karma, wisdom, raja yoga path.
    If you can combine eachof these, especially Raja Yoga and Bhakti, my guru says it’s like having two super powers come together to help you achieve your goal quickly.

    For me, the realization of bhakti happened after reading The Gospel of Ramakrishna ( )
    It’s a truly touching book if one just reads with heart. If you get tears even once in your eyes while reading this, you can be sure that your bhakta is awakened, now just nurture it gradually as mentioned in the book.

  • Varun

    The idea of liberation is to free from the bondage. What is this bondage? It’s to consider myself, my atman separate from others. SO intentionally we limit our atman who’s otherwise one with brahman (qualitatively).
    But how do this thought of separation arise? it’s because of ego. Anything we say, do or think with sense of i-ness, is the works of ego.
    So, if we cut the ego we’re free.
    Now comes to current article and why I consider Bhakti to be the most important quality for any seeker. Bhakti cuts this ego, when you surrender onto your guru or istha, you surrender your ego. gradually ego diminishes while your consciousness expands. Eventually ego goes away and you realize that your a manifestation of infinite and one with it.
    “when I was here, Hari wasn’t. Now Hari is here and I’m not.”

    It’d be wrong to believe that if ego is gone, you lose your identity. Because you can imagine that you can very well exist with constant realization that you’re a manifestation of the same supreme God. Only the idea of i-ness, as separate, limiting identity is no longer there.

  • Tony Radcliffe-Hung

    Jnana and Bhakti are one and the same, right?
    Ramana describing them this way is a deep insight. The one on the path of jnana seeks to find who am I? That aspirant’s goal is no thought, holding onto the “I” without letting it rise and spread out in thought.
    The Bhakta’s goal is devotion to God by complete surrender, ultimately surrending also all thought.
    They start out so different in the MIND. But they end the same. They therefore ARE the same, it’s just that the premise (for the ego) is different at the beginning. Both are just means to silencing the mind, thereby burning up vasanas and opening the lotus of realization of Self.